Greedy outfitter killed more than 30 mountain lions and 50 bobcats, along with other acts of criminal misconduct.
Last week, Nicholaus J. Rodgers, 31, of Medford, Oregon, was sentenced to six months of home confinement, a $5,000 fine, 50 hours of community service and three years of probation – during which he is prohibited from hunting and fishing – for conspiring to violate the Lacey Act, a federal wildlife protection law.
The sentence Rodgers received appears light in comparison that which his co-conspirator and employer Christopher W. Loncarich, 56, of Mack, Colorado received last November for his part in the crimes. In addition to three years of probation Loncarich was sentenced to 27 months in prison.
Loncarich is the owner/operator of Loncarich Guides and Outfitters of Colorado, for whom Rodgers worked as an assistant hunting guide. Rodgers is the final defendant to be sentenced in the case, with Caitlin and Andie Loncarich, Loncarich’s daughters, and Marvin Ellis, another assistant hunting guide, receiving lesser sentences last September, in the case of the the women, and in June, 2013 in the case of Ellis. Loncarich and Ellis also lost their trucks to government seizure.
Also identified in the investigation were 18 hunting clients of the outfitter, three of whom have been cited for violations of the Lacey Act and who have thus far been fined $13,100 for their roles in the crimes.
The sentences followed a three-year joint investigation by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
CPW Northwest Regional Manager Ron Velarde spoke hopefully of the sentencing, “The sentence should send a strong message that poaching is a serious crime and will be treated as such by law enforcement agencies and the courts. Our officers and investigators worked hard to bring these criminals to justice and we are satisfied with the outcome.”
In addition to illegally killing animals Loncarich and his crew also committed numerous state and federal violations, including killing several of the big cats in Utah and then illegally transporting them to Colorado, whereupon Loncarich further falsified documents needed to obtain verification and registration for the hides.
More disturbing to many are also the investigation’s reports of mistreatment and cruelty to many of the animals Loncarich acquired in order to ensure successful “hunts” for his clients. A number of mountain lions were captured prior to a client’s arrival and then, according to the report, “hindered” or “shortened up” by holding them in cages before releasing them directly for the client or, worse still, shooting the cats in their paws, legs or stomachs to hinder their ability to escape a client.
Several wildlife officials spoke out on the case.
CPW Area Wildlife Manager JT Romatzke said, “This was not hunting. It was a crime. It was cruel to the animal and contrary to what an ethical, legal hunt should be.”
Tony Wood, Law Enforcement Chief for the Utah DWR added, “The code of fair chase is something those of us lawful and ethical hunters live by and it means a lot to us. He [Loncarich] was not a hunter, but a businessman, who took great pains and went to great lengths to make a buck.”
Loncarich charged between $3,500 and $7,500 for the lion hunts and between $700 and $1,500 for the bobcat hunts, sharing his earnings with his assistants.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent in Charge, Steve Oberholtzer confirmed that, “Many of the violations committed by Mr. Loncarich appear to be the result of greed, unlawfully killing and maiming wildlife to increase his profits.”
Velarde summarized, “This is easily among the worst cases of illegal taking and poaching of wildlife I have seen in my 40-plus years in wildlife management.”
For many in the hunting community, the sentences Loncarich and his co-conspirators received were not sufficient punishment.